Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by St Edmundsbury Borough Council

The Local Government Association drew my attention to your inquiry on innovations in citizen participation. I have enclosed a leaflet[11] which summarises the comprehensive programme, Working with Communities, developed and implemented by St Edmundsbury Borough Council to engage citizens in local governance. Also included is a copy of a Committee report which set out a key strand of the programme, our community involvement strategy, Empowered Citizens.

  What is distinctive about Working with Communities is that it concentrates not on a narrow range of participation mechanisms but on changing the culture of citizen-authority interaction across the board. We were one of just two local authorities in the UK selected in an Improvement & Development Agency case studies report for the holistic approach we adopted towards promoting citizen participation. When talk of innovation so often focuses on unusual techniques, what Working with Communities demonstrates is that real innovation can be found in encouraging and empowering staff across an authority to engaging individuals and groups in the community to work with us in determining what should be done for the good of all. When so many public sector organisations embrace what in effect are highly individualistic methods of consultation and user feedback, we moved forward with a decidedly communitarian model.

  As Working with Communities has been primarily about enhanced staff awareness and empathy in engaging with citizens, there were no significant additional costs. The benefits can only be measured in terms of the greater sense of belonging, trust and co-operation citizens gain from their experience over time. Even people who on particular occasions disagree strongly with the Council's decisions acknowledge that they have had good opportunities to talk things through, recognising the Council can rarely, if ever, meet everyone's demands.

  The Working with Communities approach can be replicated in other central and local government bodies. It would strengthen representative government considerably by making citizens feel that they are a vital part of the democratic governance of their communities beyond voting in periodic elections.

  If after reading this letter and the enclosed materials, you would like to know more about Working with Communities, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Dr Henry Tam

11   Not printed, but available on request from the Chief Executive's Department, St Edmundsbury Borough Council. Back

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